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Workplace Gender Parity: Necessary but Complicated in #MeToo Era

By Kristin Bull

Women are problem-solvers and multitaskers; experts agree they should be hired, promoted and paid equal to their male counterparts. But creating a workplace culture of gender inclusion is complicated, and in the #MeToo era, there are unintended risks.

“Women are pissed off, and there is danger when activism comes out of anger,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI 12), who participated in the panel discussion, “The Women’s Wave: Breaking the Silence” during the Mackinac Policy Conference on Thursday.

“I’m not old, but I’m seasoned,” Dingell said. “Women of my generation have 100 stories and have put up with a lot. What’s great about young people is that they are not tolerating these things. But we have to make sure there is due process.”

Dingell joined Carolyn Cassin, president and CEO of Michigan Women Forward and general partner of the BELLE Michigan Impact Fund; W.K. Kellogg Foundation President and CEO La June Montgomery Tabron; and 2018 Conference Chair Ray Telang, U.S. automotive leader and Detroit managing partner for PwC, on the panel. Patti Solis Doyle, a CNN political commentator and president of Solis Strategies, moderated the discussion.

Panelists agreed workplace gender parity is important but complicated: it involves buy-in from leadership, bias training, and constructive dialogues. Ultimately, they concluded, gender parity within an organization helps the bottom line.

“Companies that promote women to senior levels make more money than companies that do not,” Tabron said. “This has been known for a decade.”

Key Takeaways:

  • One danger in pushing for gender parity at work is that organizations don’t get to the root cause. “We need to think about how we’ve gotten ourselves into this place where women are valued less than men — how we have gotten into a space where actions are living out unconscious biases,” Tabron said.
  • Telang called workplace gender parity a “business imperative.” But he acknowledged that one unintended consequence of the #MeToo movement is that some men now question whether they should take a female co-worker to lunch or whether they should mentor them the way they would mentor a male co-worker.
  • There are 83 women in the U.S. House of Representatives and 21 women in the U.S. Senate — though women are more than 51 percent of the U.S. population. Dingell said she is hopeful because she is seeing more women run for office this year than ever before.
  • Women and men have an equal responsibility to work toward workplace gender parity. “If you’re a woman in a senior leadership position, raise your hand, stand up and speak out for another woman. Get bias training for everyone. Get out in the open and talk about it,” Cassin said.
  • Panelists disagreed as to whether there will be equal pay in their lifetime. Tabron and Cassin said yes; Telang said he was “absolutely hopeful”; Dingell said that although millennials will be “treated a whole lot better, they won’t catch up.”

This article was written by Crain’s Content Studio as part of a collaborative partnership with the Detroit Regional Chamber for the 2018 Mackinac Policy Conference.